Governance & Democratic Process

Governance, voting, elections, political campigns, campaign finance, election reform, and the policy-making process including lobbying.

  • publication
    March 30, 2015
    As a key element of their strategy, recent Presidential campaigns have recruited thousands of workers to engage in direct voter contact. We conceive of this strategy as a principal-agent problem. Workers engaged in direct contact are intermediaries between candidates and voters, but they may be ill-suited to convey messages to general-election audiences. By analyzing a survey of workers fielded in partnership with the 2012 Obama campaign, we show that in the context of the campaign widely considered most adept at direct contact, individuals who were interacting with swing voters on the campaign’s behalf were demographically unrepresentative, ideologically extreme, cared about atypical issues, and misunderstood the voters’ priorities. We find little evidence that the campaign was able to use strategies of agent control to mitigate its principal-agent problem. We question whether individuals typically willing to be volunteer surrogates are productive agents for a strategic campaign.
  • publication
    March 27, 2015
    A large literature argues that the committee assignment process plays an important role in shaping legislative politics because some committees provide legislators with substantial benefits. However, evaluating the degree to which legislators benefit from winning their preferred assignments has been challenging with existing data. This paper sheds light on the benefits legislators accrue from winning their preferred committee assignments by exploiting rules in Arkansas’ state legislature, where legislators select their own committee assignments in a randomized order. The natural experiment indicates that legislators reap at most limited rewards from winning their preferred assignments. These results potentially raise questions about the robustness of widely held assumptions in literatures on party discipline and legislative organization.
  • blog
    Bitter partisan rhetoric over a social science experiment undermines the effort to prevent teen pregnancy.
  • publication
    March 13, 2015
    Previous research finds that House majority members and members in the president's party garner additional federal spending in their districts. Using federal spending data in individual districts, we implement two research designs to distinguish elected officials enacting policies that benefit like-minded voters—the party in the electorate—from those that benefit same-party elected officials—the party in government. We find robust evidence that presidential partisanship is associated with large differences in spending correlated with voter preferences, but little evidence that presidents favor areas represented by their party in the House. By contrast, control of the House is associated with differences in spending by voter preferences and with modest increases in spending in districts held by members of the majority. These findings have important implications for understanding presidential influence, as well as the role of parties in the House and in coordinating between elected branches.
  • blog
    Convenience voting adoption largely unaffected by party politics.
  • publication
    February 25, 2015
    From mobilizing masses to monitoring rebels, information and communication technologies (ICT) are transforming political conflict. We reflect on the contributions made by the articles of this special issue to the emerging ICT–political conflict research agenda, highlighting strengths of these articles, and offering suggestions for moving forward. Elaborate theory is crucial: it informs our standards of evidence, our choice of statistical models, our tests of competing theories, and our efforts to draw appropriate generalizations. Qualitative data is often neglected as a source of evidence, especially for evaluating the many competing mechanisms in this literature. Alternative explanations for results should be taken seriously, especially more mundane ones like confounding, measurement, and selection biases. We discuss in detail the risk that measurement bias could account for the prominent association between cellular coverage and (reported) conflict, and recommend several ways of evaluating and bounding this risk. We discuss the problem of temporal and spatial dependence for statistical inference – a problem that is often present for studies of ICTs – and point out that methodological solutions rely on (rarely stated) causal assumptions. Finally, we highlight key areas for future research, recommend a commitment to transparency best practices, and conclude with a discussion of the policy implications of this research.
  • publication
    February 24, 2015
    Recent elections have witnessed substantial debate regarding the degree to which state governments facilitate access to the polls. Despite this newfound interest, however, many of the major reforms aimed at increasing voting convenience (i.e., early voting and no-excuse absentee voting) were implemented over the past four decades. Although numerous studies examine their consequences (on turnout, the composition of the electorate, and/or electoral outcomes), we know significantly less about the factors leading to the initial adoption of these policies. We attempt to provide insights into such motivations using event history analysis to identify the impact of political and demographic considerations, as well as diffusion mechanisms, on which states opted for easier ballot access. We find that adoption responded to some factors signaling the necessity of greater voting convenience in the state, and that partisanship influenced the enactment of early voting but not no-excuse absentee voting procedures.
  • publication
    June 1, 2015
    What were the ingredients of Robert A. Dahl’s genius as a political scientist? First, he asked good questions. Those were ordinarily bold, broad questions central to political theory that appear at the openings of his works and orient them. Second, he was resourceful in creating or tailoring holistic concepts such as ‘democracy’ and ‘power,’ as well as compositional categories such as ‘cumulative’ versus ‘noncumulative’ resources, or ‘participation’ and ‘contestation’ as routes to democratization. Third, he evangelized for hypothesis testing and reliance on datasets as the future of political science, and he acted on this advice.
  • project
    December 5, 2014
  • blog
    Weighing values and evidence in campaign finance disclosure.
  • News
  • News
  • blog
    Educating citizens in basic statistical concepts may improve voter competence.
  • publication
    October 9, 2014
    Drawing on the pioneering work of Anthony Downs, political scientists have tended to characterize American politics as a game among undifferentiated competitors, played out largely through elections, with outcomes reflecting how formal rules translate election results into legislative votes. In this perspective, voters, campaigns, elections, and the ideological distribution of legislators merit extensive scrutiny. Other features of the political environment—most notably, the policies these legislators help create and the interest groups that struggle over these policies—are deemed largely peripheral. However, contemporary politics often looks very different than the world described by Downs. Instead, it more closely resembles the world depicted by E. E. Schattschneider—a world in which policy and groups loom large, the influence of voters is highly conditional, and the key struggle is not over gaining office but over reshaping governance. Over the last twenty years, a growing body of scholarship has emerged that advances this corrective vision—an approach we call “policy-focused political science.” In this framework, politics is centrally about the exercise of government authority for particular substantive purposes. Such exercises of authority create the “terrain” for political struggle, profoundly shaping both individual and group political behavior. More important, because policies can be so consequential, they also serve as the “prize” for many of the most enduring political players, especially organized interest groups. The payoffs of a policy-focused perspective include a more accurate portrayal of the institutional environment of modern politics, an appreciation for the fundamental importance of organized groups, a better understanding of the dynamics of policy change, and a more accurate mapping of interests, strategies, and influence. These benefits are illustrated through brief examinations of two of the biggest changes in American politics over the last generation: asymmetric partisan polarization and the growing concentration of income at the top.

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